Standardised testing – Who’s at fault? System, teacher or student? Pt 2 Teacher/Student

” And something else that matters more, we’ve taught you how to think!”

Wise words from Miss Bonkers from the pages of “Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!”, Dr Seuss'(with help from Jack Prelutsky and Lane Smith) tribute to creativity in schools over standardisation. I open with this YouTube reading of this terrific story as I present my stance on the impact Teachers and their students have on the issue of Standardised testing. This is a follow up post to my take on the System’s successes and failures regarding this concern in education.

As teachers, we work our fingers to the bone to teach our children in the most creative and engaging ways possible. We spend hours each week resourcing quality materials, planning great lessons to get the most out of our students. Then state/national standardised testing time comes around and we completely change our teaching style and focus.

From teaching multiple strategies in Mathematics that will enable our students to be independent, ‘mental calculating’ problem solvers, we suddenly shift back to algorithms and arithmetic drills to prepare them for those quick response multiple choice tests that come by once a year. After months of sharing in the joys of literature and expressing creativity through so many media forms, we cram blocks of texts and lists of question and answer practice sessions into 3 weeks of preparation before the big Literacy test. Five months later when the results finally show up, we sit dismayed that all that effort we put in practising for the test led to little or no change in the previous years’ score. What we don’t get is that, despite the old saying, practice doesn’t make perfect.

If all we do is teach our students how to take a test by giving them superficial tips like ” two of the answers don’t make sense so it really just comes down to a couple of choices” ( not realising that we might sense that there are two stupid choices in the multiple choice options but a 9 year old doesn’t), little will be achieved for those who need to improve. If we think pointing out some key words and phrases that will probably come up in the test next week will make a difference when we can’t possibly predict every word that may appear, children will continue to stress and panic, selecting the first response that includes something they are familiar with. Why else would a child select the “Dogs chase cats” option after reading text that mentions animals of different sizes ( including dogs and cats) and the correct answer is obvious to us ” Animals come in different shapes and sizes?” What’s missing here is a lack of logic from the child…..and this is key to the problem we are perpetuating too often as teachers. We are not teaching the students to THINK.

Before a child can read a book, he can THINK about the book’s meaning, events and characters in conversation with their teacher or parents. Before a child understands what + and ÷ means she can THINK about what happens when you put two groups together or share lollies with your friends and families. Before a child can sort out the difference between isosceles and equilateral triangles, she can THINK about how to put blocks together to build a toy house. THINK about how Lego blocks can teach children about arrays and counting patterns. THINK about how we can argue about issues in their lives before a child knows how to construct a persuasive essay with paragraphs for each argument or even spell or write. As schools and Education departments, let’s start THINKING about a THINKING curriculum.

Phonics is important. Word recognition is vital. Being Level 28 by the end of Grade 2 is a must. It’s all pointless, though, if we have achieved all this without emphasising the importance of THINKING along the way. No Thinking equals no comprehension equals failed reading test. Rote counting is needed but not if the counter isn’t THINKING about what he is counting, why he is counting and is actually counting something. Any skill isolated from THINKING is not helping a child grow as a rational, problem solving student.

Dangerously Irrelevant’s Scott MacLeod, referencing a blogpost by Kevin ‘Doc’ Dougherty reflects on the importance of teaching above the test, not to the test. We need to get our students to struggle. Struggle leads to THINKING. THINKING leads to the ability to look at a question in a standardised test and logically work through a process that leads to a correct answer. I’ve been doing lots of focused standardised tests lately, not in preparation for the upcoming NAPLAN tests in May, but to identify student skill levels so we can plan differentiated programs for them. In watching the students, the number of times they are making irrational choices for answers is astounding. They’re not THINKING.

Yes, there is unfamiliar but relevant vocabulary in these tests that we have disregarded in the past. We are addressing that and exposing the students to a more sophisticated and varied language, struggle and all.As observing teachers, we are beginning to recognise that we are not presenting problems in our day to day teaching ( not test preparation ) in the variety of ways problems are presented in these tests. We are teaching down, dumbing down, teaching to the lower end of the scale, call it what you like. If we force feed every step of the process, explain every instruction without letting children struggle to work out what the instructions or questions mean, always present mathematical problems as numbers rather than written or visual problems, we let them down. We fail to teach them to THINK. So we are now making sure our presentation of problems, information and texts in general are varied and challenging.

So while it is an exaggerated work of fiction, lets look to Miss Bonkers and the school in Diffendoofer for guidance. Yes we need standardised testing to check progress and assess learning. Yes we need to see if our students are performing to a standard that is accepted across the country. But we do not have to teach the content of a test or how to take a test. We need to teach them how to THINK.

Standardised testing – Who’s at fault? System, teacher or student? Pt 1 – The System.

I had been planning to weigh in on the Standardised Testing debate for a while now. Then I spotted this article titled The four biggest myths of the anti-testing backlash and decided to put my ‘two cents worth’ in.

First of all, don’t call me a fence sitter, but I can see what both sides are saying. And that’s part of the problem with the whole debate. It’s just two sides not listening to the other’s point of view. Being a quasi/mutant part teacher, part leader composite being, I get to discuss the postives and negatives of testing with many stakeholders and this is where it all sits with me.

The System Level.

At system level, no one has a coherent, unified explanation of the purpose of Standardised Testing. Is it for tracking student progress or achievement? Is it a means of evaluating the performance of schools, teachers or students? Is it a “one off snapshot of performance to get a general picture of student achievement to be used alongside school/teacher recorded data to build a profile of a student’s strengths and weaknesses” ( phew!) or is it the all important indicator of school and teacher performance that takes precedence over all other evidence of achievement before or after the test? Are we meant to use the results to guide curriculum and school planning or work with the results at a one to one level to build on Individual Learning Plans for students? Are the results intended for educational experts or meant to be published by newspapers and government websites to pigeonhole schools into rankings based on a one off event? Over the years, I hear and see all of these scenarios played out all the time and the end results too often don’t result in targeted learning improvements because we get bogged down in definitions of purpose and mixed agendas.

Testing is necessary. In a mobile, global society, there needs to be some standard we have to set for the typical 10 year old if one year their Dad’s job takes him to Thailand and the next year he ends up in Dubai. Results can be used effectively. Trends can be found at a class or school level that can be addressed quickly. Results can generate purposeful planning conversations based on actual data rather than teacher intuition or generalisations based on a small sample group. Done well, students and their parents can get timely feedback that they can use to address strengths and weaknesses quickly, not when they get their report five months later. Despite what we think, many students like competition and like to know how they are performing against their best mate or nemesis. So I am not against the concept of standardised testing. I have issues with its perceived purpose.

I’ve spent the last 3 weeks at school using a lot of standardised tests. We believe at the leadership level, we have a clear purpose for these tests. The On Demand testing we are using online with entire Grade Levels can give us a snapshot of who is below, at and above standard. From there we plan programs to address needs of groups of students. It’s instant feedback – which is a massive advantage over the ridiculous 5 month waiting period for NAPLAN ( Australia’s nation wide standardised testing program) . The minute the student finishes the test, we can bring up overall and question by question results. But the amount of data can be overwhelming at the micro-level and too general at a macro level. More importantly for me, raw numbers and right and wrong answers tell me what the student can’t do BUT it doesn’t tell me why.

That’s why a more effective form of standardised testing is the one on one interview. Too time consuming to do with every student and often too pointless to use with high achievers or the ‘normed’ student, but what you get the chance to do that makes a real difference to the student’s learning is identify how they think. A instead of C doesn’t tell me why the child couldn’t add two digit numbers; listening to that same student verbalise the misconceptions of addition does. Where standardised testing of the written, whole class nature helps me here is identifying the students who would benefit from the interview. Over the last week, I have had some eye opening interviews and discovered some major issues with some students that NAPLAN and On Demand or class worksheets clearly missed. I’ve also found out that some of the students I interviewed because of Standardised Test results, were not low achievers at all. They were using sophisticated mental computation strategies that will support them in future years and should have helped them ‘ace’ the test. Something else was going on at the test site that a written test can’t begin to pick up.

I don’t know how possible it is but it would be nice if at system level someone could investigate the possibility of an alternative to the 50 question multiple choice question test. Is our priority the Collection of Data about WHO is at risk or finding out HOW we can help the at risk student? I don’t know how practical it is at a system level, but 5 questions on key ideas that ask a child to justify their responses is going to tell me more about what is going on in the head of that student than a score of 12/50.

Testing is vitally important but it’s important to find out how to help our students learn, not simply what they do and don’t know on a given Thursday. Identifying learning issues is what I want to see as the purpose of Standardised Testing. That helps teachers. That helps students. Anything else becomes a political football in a debate between two groups of people who are only providing the media 1o second soundbites to keep the real stakeholders out of the conversation.

Having said that, it is certainly not all the system’s fault. Teachers and students have to be accountable in all of this too. What roles, rights and responsibilities do those at the coalface have in this debate? I’ll cover that in Pt 2 ( or maybe even Pt 3 – depends on how much I ramble on for!!) In the meantime, I’d like to hear what you think? What’s your take on Standardised Testing? Which side of the debate do you support? Join the conversation.

TeachMeet Melbourne Highlights – 24 Hr Skype and Game-based PD!

I finally made the effort to attend a TeachMeet. It was something I had heard a lot about from Sydney teachers online when they started there but when I found out about Melbourne TeachMeets(#tmmelb), my first look gave me the impression everyone was from “the other side of the bridge” and I didn’t want to travel that far. This year’s first TeachMeet Melbourne drew me in with its central city location – and at a Pub as an added bonus!

It was a great experience and I’m already looking forward to future meets this year, especially the ones earmarked for State Library, ScienceWorks and Children’s Hospital locations.

The variety of presentations had a lot to offer but the two that stood out for me were Jenny Ashby’s 24 Hour Skype review and Heather Bailie’s Game Based Incentivised Professional Development Program.

Jenny Ashby is a educator from Epsom Primary School in Bendigo, Victoria, Australia.She presented her experience of hosting a 24 Hour Skype session at her school. Awe inspiring stuff. Connecting with that many schools around the world, getting that many students to stay over night at school just so they could communicate with different cultures to gain real life experiences from others students from diverse locations was an amazing achievement. Beats the hell out of reading about countries from a dusty old textbook. Nothing beats face to face. Would love to try it. Her blog post on her school’s blog gives a great overview of the successes and undoubted challenges of such a monumental organisational effort by Jenny and the students…. and they’re doing it again this year. Maybe you can join them. Check it out and dare to dream.

I tried my version of Techie Brekkies last year with mixed results. Some teachers made great efforts to attend many mini PD sessions in ICT before or after school but I didn’t hit the mark with everyone. Heather Bailie’s way of doing it may just do the trick. From Mill Park Secondary School,  Heather has introduced the MPSC Challenge

Just because we are adults and professionals, doesn’t mean we don’t crave a bit of incentive to develop our skills. There’s individual ‘motivation’, team based incentives and the bonus of accredited minutes for VIT registration PD requirements. A great idea. Click on the link above ( or the image) to find out more.

Other presentations included the benefits of using Twitter tags ( in this case #HISTED for history teaching discussions) for collaborative conversations, the use of Pinterest for collecting Arts resources and connect to real Arts experts, a great review of the fabulous work done for sick children by the educators of the Royal Children’s Hosptital, and a presentation by a local Chinese teacher, who shared with us the differences between our social media and what is accessible in China and Taiwan ( an eye opener, that one ). There was also a stirring introduction focusing on “the future of subject associations in a world driven by social software”.

It was just my first attendance but I can already see I’m going to love future TeachMeets. It’s great to meet up with people with a similar passion and interest and to learn about possibilities from people outside my workplace who can challenge and extend me further. Getting feedback from fellow educators via Twitter, including others from interstate and locals who couldn’t attend was a winner, too. Looking forward to the next one.

For locals (Victorians) check out the TeachMeet Melbourne wiki for details or follow us on #TMMelb during our meets. Check to see if you have your own TeachMeet movement in your area. You won’t regret going.

Here’s a different take on the day in Storify form – Twitter Style from Celia’s Reflections, one of TMMelb’s founders.

The 6 Rs to success in school and life

20130127-085735.jpg

I came across this infographic while on my daily flick through stories on my Zite app. Credit goes to Eye on Education for the link.

It got me thinking a bit about what is really important in school and life beyond it. We can spend countless hours developing the greatest lessons, learning and using new technologies, getting creative with project based learning, attending talkfests on the latest theories in education, analysing the latest test scores and where we went right and wrong, but when it come down to it, maybe these 6 Rs are really what we should be focussing on.

A 90+ point average on your exam results means “diddly squat” if you haven’t become a resilient, resourceful person who knows how to be responsible and can work respectfully with others in stable relationships. And we can spend as much money, time and effort as we want in implementing whizz bang tech initiatives and new revolutionary educational programs in our schools, but if reading COMPREHENSION isn’t the core of them, well …………….

Most of these 6 Rs don’t have an easy to quantify, standardised data score applicable to them but it doesn’t mean we don’t make them a bigger priority in our school improvement plans. Makes you think.

So, teachers, do you have good or bad Habits of Mind? Pt 4 – Exact, Understanding and Silly

20121202-074654.jpg

This is my final reflection on the 16 Habits of Mind. Next week, I return to school after Australian Summer School holidays and we’ll be moving straight into discussions about how to incorporate Habits of Mind into the curriculum. I hope after these reflections I’ll be returning prepared!

So, teachers, do you have good or bad Habits of Mind? Pt 1 – Control

So, teachers, do you have good or bad Habits of Mind?? Pt 2 – Cognitive

So, teachers, do you have good or bad Habits of Mind? Pt 3 – Supple/Sensorial

Striving for accuracy

As a Learner…

          • Do you check the validity of information in research and look for multiple sources of information?
          • Do you meticulously edit your work individually AND seek out the advice of others?
          • Do you constantly investigate ways to improve your skills and abilities?
          • Are you proud of your achievements and efforts?

OR….

          • Do you just find the first half decent reference related to a topic regardless of its source and use that support your work?
          • Do you strive more to FINISH work rather than produce quality?

As a Teacher…

            • Do you enforce achievable high expectations on your students and instil a sense of pride in them to always produce their best?
            • Do you have routines in place that support students in ensuring accurate editing of content and structure?
            • Do you allow sufficient time for students to be accurate?
            • Do you model quality writing, research, editing, etc?
            • Do you monitor the accuracy and comprehension of student reading?
            • Do you have processes in place to check the validity of student research?
            • Do you expect students to precisely organise their working out of problems in Mathematics?

OR….

            • Do you put more emphasis on completing a quantity of work as data to assess rather than quality that represents the true ability of the student?
            • Do you prefer students to finish rather than show understanding?
            • Do you take more notice of the presentation of work rather than the accuracy of information?
Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision

As a Learner…

                  • Do you revise your texts to ensure your message is getting across in the most efficient and effective way
                  • Do you seek out a test audience to check whether your message is understood?
                  • Do you stick to facts and clearly differentiate between fact and opinion?
                  • Do you check that your opinions and ideas are supported by verifiable evidence?
                  • Do you plan and rehearse your oral presentations to ensure you succeed in communicating effectively with your audience?

OR…. Do you quickly write down your thoughts at the last minute, neglect the need for your audience to understand your message, say or write anything that will achieve the outcome of making your  deadline, generalise, exaggerate and omit important information due to a lack of effort?

As a Teacher…

            • Do you carefully plan your lessons so that your objectives are met, ensuring you know the strategies you’ll need to address different abilities and are in clear in your mind what the specific skills and concepts are being addressed?
            • Do you have structures like rubrics and checklists in place so students know they are expected to communicate with clarity and precision?

OR…. Do you enter some lessons with a general, sometimes vague understanding of what you hope to achieve and without the resources to address potential roadblocks to student success? Are your students unsure of expectations on them?

 Listening with understanding and empathy

 

As a Learner…

                  • Do you respect the rights of other students/colleagues to put forward their point of view and reflect on the life experience their opinions are based on?
                  • Do you ask questions as you listen to show the speaker you’re interested and want to understand, even if you show your disagreement?
                  • Do you put forward your point of view and encourage and expect a reaction from others to promote discussion?

OR…. Do you just switch off because you think you know what the speaker is going to say and you disagree, make no effort to involve yourself in the discussion or cut off other people or disregard them when they disagree with you?

As a Teacher…

            • Do you allow students to finish expressing their viewpoint before you respond?
            • Do you model/teach how to listen and also how to respond when you agree AND disagree?
            • DO you have routines in place for discussions in your classroom?

OR…. do you cut your students off when you disagree, foster an environment that emphasises your viewpoint as sacrosanct to the detriment of open discussion, allow students to talk over the top of others or respond negatively without justification?

 Thinking interdependently

Work together! Being able to work in and learn from others in reciprocal situations. Team work.

As a Learner…

                  • Do you seek out opportunities to collaborate, share your work with others and encourage feedback?
                  • Do you offer advice and support while also seeking it for yourself when needed?
                  • Do you share the workload and plan effectively with others to ensure deadlines are met?

OR…. Do you prefer to do everything by yourself, demonstrate a lack of commitment or reliability when forced to work with others and never trust others enough to share ideas?

As a Teacher…

            • Do you foster a classroom environment that relies on collaboration, discussion and teamwork which includes you as a member of the group, not an outsider in charge of everything?
            • Do your students have to justify their answers, strategies, theories and discoveries through shared discussions?
            • DO your students support each other, sharing their skills, deficiencies, challenges and successes?

OR…. is the majority of class time spent with children doing ONLY individual work which they only share with you as the expert?

 Finding Humour

Laugh a little! Finding the whimsical, incongruous and unexpected. Being able to laugh at oneself.

As a Learner…

                  • Are you able see the funny side to your mistakes and not stress out about criticisms?
                  • Do you try to learn from humorous presentations of information like satire, political cartoons and parodies and can separate the facts from the joke?
                  • Do you relieve the stress of learning occasionally by looking for humour in your day?
                  • Do you try to add a bit of levity to your presentations to engage the audience or lighten the mood?

OR…. do you take yourself too seriously, respond badly to a bit of gentle ribbing, go through the day without a bit of a laugh and only seek out serious, purely educational sources of information?

As a Teacher…

            • Are you able to laugh at your mistakes in class and reveal that you are human to your students?
            • Do you use humourous sources of information to engage your students and generate discussion in a fun atmosphere?
            • Do you use humour ( not to be confused with sarcasm) to defuse conflict?
            • Can you handle your students using humour in your grade, even occasionally at your expense?

OR…. are you forever the serious, hard taskmaster who takes your job too seriously and sucks the joy out of life in your classroom?

Phew! That’s my take on the 16 Habits of Mind. A LOT to think about…..and not all in one day! When I started this reflection, I got a bit of pushback from a member of my PLN that I was expecting too much of everyone. I don’t. They’re Habits, not rules. No one can be expected to meet them all on every day. Certainly not me. ( Seriously, the OR… parts are just as much a reflection on my 25 year teaching career as anyone else I know in the business) But when I say they’re not rules, I’m also stressing that we can’t expect them to magically grow in students just by putting them up on posters and ‘teaching’ a habit a week. Habits are part of our lives, whether they are bad ( like smoking or making strange noises by grinding your tongue with your teeth – sorry personal reference there!) or good ( like regular morning exercise and night time reading). So too, the Habits of Mind. They have to be part of our DAILY lives, not just classroom time. Let’s recognise what we do well and what we struggle with. Be open about it and do something real about addressing our deficiencies as well as celebrating our successes. Then, maybe, they will become real Habits, not just another educational theory we’re trying to implement and tick off on the education system’s To do list.

So, teachers, do you have good or bad Habits of Mind? Pt 3 – Supple/Sensorial

20121202-074654.jpg

Last month I started this series of reflections on Habits of the Mind. I completed Part 1 and 2 quickly….. then Summer Holidays arrived. In the spirit of the Persistence Habit, I’m finally ready to continue with Part 3 – Supple/Sensorial, in preparation for returning to work soon to continue work on Habits as a staff and student community.

Thinking flexibly

 As a Learner…

          • Do you use books, Twitter, blogging, social bookmarking sites or Video sites like Youtube to search for information and advice?
          •  Do you try out new ways of solving mathematical/arithmetical problems and develop a bank of strategies that work efficiently for different situations?
          • Are you an early adopter/trialler of new tools, techniques, strategies?
          • Do you write multiple plans and drafts of texts to test out the best results?
          • Do you seek advice, admit you need help, face the prospect of failure or challenge?
          • Do you take courses in your own time to try out new experiences?

OR….

  • Do you steadfastly accept that what you have done and learnt in the past is good enough since it has “got you this far in life quite successfully, thank you very much”?
  • Do you stick with one successful strategy that you are confident in using regardless of whether alternatives are more efficient or can lead to greater understanding of mathematical concepts?
  • Are you afraid to try anything new because you might not find it easy or useful?
  • Do you find excuses to avoid challenge in your life?

As a Teacher…

  • Do you encourage an independent AND interdependent classroom environment in which children make both individual and collaborative decisions?
  •  Do you provide your students opportunities to explore new ways of solving mathematical/arithmetical problems and develop a bank of strategies that work efficiently for different situations?
  • Do you provide a range of options for children to choose and encourage them to use a variety of tools?
  • Do you write multiple plans and drafts of texts to test out the best results?
  • Do you have a classroom where the children seek advice from you, fellow students, other teachers, outside resources ?
  • Do you present open ended problems, project based learning, group and independent inquiry opportunities that require the students to challenge, test, fail and succeed ALL during the same task?

OR….

  • Do you steadfastly continue to teach in the same way as you have  in the past since it has “got you and (most) of your students this far in life quite successfully, thank you very much”?
  • Do you stick with teaching the one successful strategy that you are confident in using regardless of whether alternatives are more efficient or can lead to greater understanding of mathematical concepts?
  • Are you afraid to try  new strategies and pedagogy because they might not improve your student learning in the short term or you may be seen to struggle in front of peers or students?
  • Do you find excuses to avoid changing your teaching or classroom management style?
  • Do you TELL your students how to do something so that they never have to think for themselves?

Creating, imagining, and innovating 

 As a Learner… 

          • Do you try a different presentation tool for every project you attempt?
          • Do you spend a lot of time in your day thinking about new ideas, inventing, looking for a way of doing something no one else has done before?
          • Do you write a lot? Do you have a go at stories, songs, poetry, play writing, comedy sketches?
          • Do you try new apps, web tools, software to see if they can enhance your ability to generate original material?
          • Do you have a go at creative pursuits like model making, painting, sewing, carpentry, etc?
          • Do you try to improve other people’s ideas and solve problems that will make something work better?
OR….
  • Do you stick to the same tried and true way of presenting information because you have always done it that way?
  • Do you always ask other people to solve your problems?
  • Do you give up as soon as you can’t solve something?
  • Do you just use other people’s ideas because it saves time and effort?

As a Teacher…

  • Do you vary your presentation styles and tools as a model to students to be innovative?
  • Do you provide opportunities for students  in the classroom to  think about new ideas, inventing, looking for a way of doing something no one else has done before?
  • Do you allow a lot of free time for students to write a lot? Do you model a wide range of genres?
  • Do you model how you use new technology to give students inspiration for new ways of creating?
  • Do you plan for enough opportunities for creative arts and construction in your classroom, and not just during specific lesson times?
OR….
  • Are your lessons based on question and one answer opportunities, always follow the same structure, involve passive listening and responding and are largely text based with little opportunity for creative expression or individuality?

Responding with wonderment and awe

 As a Learner…

          • Do you get excited when something new is introduced?
          • Do you look forward to challenges, find new information fascinating, actively look for something of interest in every topic?
          • Actively participate at every opportunity and proactively contribute so that your involvement makes things interesting to you?
OR…….
          • Do you switch off because you assume you will not find something interesting?
          • Do you have a very narrow range of interests and fail to engage in many activities, leading to self inflicted boredom?
          • Are you judgemental and negative towards new ideas or particular people who present new ideas?

As a Teacher…

  • Do you prepare learning opportunities in which you are actively involved in the learning, don’t know the answer or where the task will lead to?
  • Do your students see your enthusiasm and excitement in the above learning tasks and get to experience you as a learner, not an all knowing teacher?
  • Is your classroom learning environment one that involves investigation, collaboration, discovery, discussion, challenge, disagreement, freedom of expression?
OR….
  • Do you set tasks for your students without any involvement from you as a fellow learner?
  • Is your learning environment passive and controlled?
  • Can people sense a lack of excitement in your day to day teaching?

Remaining open to continuous learning

 As a Learner…

          • Are you constantly investigating and searching for new ideas and opinions?
          • Do you actively seek out people who may have a different perspective to you?
          • Do you take on new challenges that you are not an expert in?

OR…

          • Do you think you finished learning years ago, you’re happy staying in your comfort zone and don’t want to be challenged?

As a Teacher…

  • Do you always challenge your students to go one step further in investigations and to accept that being finished 20 minutes early is not an achievement but an opportunity to explore further?
  • Do you actively involve yourself in learning new things IN FRONT OF the students?
  • Do you allow students to pursue their own interests to show them that learning is not confined to the classroom or between 9 -3:30, Monday to Friday?
  • Do you allow your students to demonstrate a superior understanding of something than you?
OR…
  • Do you reinforce the idea that finishing work is more important than learning something new or taking time to investigate further?
  • Do you always have to be the Expert in the grade and have the Final Say?
  • Do you set homework that involves practising skills half the class already have, thereby discouraging the opportunity for independent investigations leading to new learning?

Gather data through all senses:
Use your natural pathways! Pay attention to the world around you Gather data through all the senses; taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight.

 As a Learner…

          • Are you a hands on learner, getting physically involved in learning and creating?
          • Do you actively go to museums, explore natural environments, try to be a tourist in your own backyard?
          • Do you like science experiments, documentaries, playing around with gadgets, building things from instructions, cooking, gardening?
          • Do you like to look at pictures and objects and investigate their physical properties?

OR…

  • Do you just like reading and listening to oral presentations, find it difficult to analyse pictorial representations ?

As a Teacher…

  • Do you organise hands on experiences at every opportunity?
  • Do you use models, videos, pictures, guest speakers to support or supplement written material?
  • Do you organise regular excursions so that children can experience things first hand?
  • Do you allow for a lot of physical activity in your learning experiences?
OR…
  • Do you rely on textbooks, worksheets, instructions on the whiteboard or verbal instructions that cater for a small percentage of your students?
FINAL THOUGHTS
A couple of things I noticed doing this reflection:
  • many of these Habits overlap and I found myself being a bit repetitive; and
  • I have a lot to improve on in these areas.
While I am a creative person, being a singer/songwriter, guitarist, drawer and story teller, some of this has disappeared from my teaching. I used to teach a lot through music. My classrooms used to be filled with my artwork. I was a great story teller. I have to get back to that. I can also be too text reliant. I’m going to challenge myself to be “less wordy” in this blog this year and use more visuals, not to just to ‘decorate’ but to follow the famous saying, ‘ a picture paints a thousand words’.
What about you? What are your challenges? How can you improve your habits? Do you have anything to add to my points? Join the conversation.

COMING UP – Final Habits of Mind Post: Exact/Understanding/Silly

So, teachers, do you have good or bad Habits of Mind?? Pt 2 – Cognitive

20121202-074654.jpg

Following on from my previous Habits of Mind post on Control Habits, one piece of feedback I received was that you would have to be a paragon of virtue to have all of these Habits of Mind functioning in your life all the time. It was also suggested that it was good for students and teachers to be aware of these Habits. My response was that I was no paragon  but it was not enough to just be aware of the Habits – that just turns them into another content area to learn and unlearn for students – but that we have to aspire to them for successful learning. No, we are not always going to succeed and sometimes we will fall into bad Habits, but Habits of Mind need to be more than a changeable weekly goal that result in us getting a HoM sticker; they are something we should strive to achieve as much as we can.

In this post we move on to the Cognitive Habits, the ones we need for deep thinking and learning to take place.

Applying past knowledge to new situations
As a learner…

          • Do you keep records of your past learning and spend time reviewing and reflecting on that learning?
          • Do you keep a journal to keep track of your learning?
          • Do you use digital bookmarking tools like Diigo or Delicious and tag articles, websites, reports under related tags so that you can link information together from both past and present?
          • Do you try to build on previous work done, looking for ways to improve on what you have done in the past but keeping successes intact?
          • Do you share your knowledge from previous years and explain how it is still relevant to what you are doing today?
          • Can you compare and contrast current and historical events and find relevance in the ideas and events of the past in your life today?
OR… Do you constantly start from scratch and waste a lot of time trying to create something new, never record anything and forget most ideas presented to you, never revise or make links between what was learnt in previous meetings, conferences, planning sessions,etc., disregard the experience and ideas of the past in an obsessive drive to change for the sake of change?
As a teacher…
  • Do you provide opportunities for students to record their learning for each day
  • Do you set up routines so that children make links between previous and current learning during the course of a lesson?
  • Do you lessons build upon past learning?
  • Dou you link concepts and key ideas from previous terms, weeks, years?
  • Do you expect your students to make links between previous and current learning
OR… do you rush through the end of lessons without giving time for students to record their learning, plan a series of disjointed lessons using worksheets that have no relationship from day to day, wait entire terms before revising skills and concepts with little chance of recall or connection and never review previous units of work and analyse successful components AND areas of improvement?

Thinking about your thinking (Metacognition)

As a learner….

          • Do you reflect on what you understand and don’t understand and make plans to discover ways to improve
          • Do you recognise when you are challenged, distracted, disenchanted and make the effort to get back on track?
          • Do you have make a concerted effort to reflect on your learning ( or lack of ), trying to identify one benefit from every learning experience you have?
          • Do you set goals and learning outcomes based on the above challenges?
          • Do you take notes as you go along and record questions, possible follow up actions, responses to what you read or listen to/view?
OR…. Do you just go through the motions during presentations, ignore/disregard what you don’t understand, randomly highlight words and phrases without reflecting on them, sit through meetings without challenging your beliefs or the beliefs of the presenters or move on to the next challenge without thinking about your level of understanding or depth of learning?

As a teacher…..

  • Have you set up routines and procedures whereby students reflect on their learning in an organised journal?
  • Do you challenge ALL students in the class to articulate their learning and misunderstandings?
  • Do your students set achieveable goals based on this reflective process?
  • Do you encourage critical thinking by setting tasks that challenge your students?
  • Does your class have collaborative discussions during which they challenge each other’s learning?
OR… do your students move hurriedly from activity to activity without pause for thought, sit silently without having thoughtful conversations with classmates, never get challenged to articulate their level of understanding or never have to use a reflective journal to document their learning?

Questioning and problem posing

As a learner…

          • Do you challenge the ideas presented to you by others and ask for evidence to justify their opinions?
          • Do you pose alternative ideas and solutions and conduct independent research to find out if they are viable?
          • Do you look for you own solutions to problems?
          • Do you dig deeper than the first level of questioning to make sure you have investigated fully?
          • Do you look for a range of resources that have a common answer?
          • Do you persist until you have found the answer?
OR… Do you accept the first idea presented as gospel, stop on the first page of a Google Search, never go beyond the first answer given to a question, lack the initiative or courage to challenge what others say or rely on others to find the answer to what you are looking for?

As a teacher…

  • Do you ask follow up questions to further challenge students to deepen their thinking?
  • Do you teach children the 5Y’s strategy that expects them to go 5 levels deep on questions they pose for research?
  • Do you encourage students to challenge your viewpoints as long as they can back their opposition up with rational thought and alternative evidence?
  • Do you present a range of data for children to analyse?
  • Do you use open ended tasks that encourage students to think about a range of possible outcomes and solutions?
  • Do you provide enough opportunities for problem solving?
OR…. Do you present as an authoritarian who has all the answers the children need, present closed questions that only have one solution, set assignments that don’t allow for independent research and topic choice, don’t allow enough time for children to work out problems before providing the answer or present only one point of view and expect children to accept it as accurate?
How much thinking goes on in your life? How much thinking goes on in your classroom? How good are your cognitive habits?

Next Post: Supple/Sensorial

So, teachers, do you have good or bad Habits of Mind? Pt 1 – Control

20121202-074654.jpg

Over the last 3 years, we have been working towards integrating Habits of Mind into our curriculum. We’ve had some successes but it’s been a challenge to maintain the momentum. Is it another layer to add to the curriculum and thus more work to do? Have we embraced its philosophy? Or is it a case of teachers needing to accept to what extent they have good or bad habits themselves? As I’ve posted earlier this year, I am a big believer in teachers being role models in learning. Maybe, as teachers and learners ourselves, we ( and I’m referring to teachers as a whole, not just myself or my colleagues) have to reflect earnestly on how developed our own Habits of Mind are before we can truly embed them into our curriculum. How can we expect our students to develop good Habits if we haven’t ourselves?

With sixteen official Habits of Mind as outlined by their “creator”, Art Costa, this would become an extremely long post, even by my rather wordy standards. I’m going to split my reflections into several posts, using the S.U.C.C.E.S.S categories shown in the image above. Today, I’ll focus on the “Control” Habits.


Persisting

As a learner;– do you consciously make an effort to stay on task during meetings, PD sessions etc, when the content is dry, irrelevant or “boring” so that you are still focused when something enlightening, useful or interesting is shared?  OR… do you just tune out like that frustrating student in your class who never listens to you?
– do you recognize your struggle in understanding a new pedagogy, concept, educational framework and look for alternative methods of learning until you have developed a level of comprehension you are satisfied with? OR… do you just claim you’ve never been good at that subject and never will be so avoid it like that student in your class you always complain doesn’t try hard enough?

As a teacher;– do you allow your students enough opportunities to re-submit work until they have shown they have grasped the understanding both you and them were aim for? OR… do you reinforce the idea that assessment is a ‘sink or swim’, one chance or you fail opportunity to prove you learnt something?

– do you provide enough time for students to struggle, problem solve, collaborate on solutions, challenge conjectures and answers? OR… do you jump in with the answer so you can move on to your next planned lesson, thereby teaching them that you are the source of all knowledge so its not worth persisting?

– do your students see you working on problems you don’t have the answer to, trying a variety of methods to achieve success, tackling complex problems over a number of days OR… do they only see you present the answers to everything?

Managing impulsivity

As a learner;
Do you…

          • prepare and follow a plan for completing the set task?
          • take in all information?
          • listen to all points of view?
          • weigh up all the evidence (both pros and cons)?
          • reflect on your emotional and logical response to what has been presented?
          • re read, listen to or review notes (written or audio)?
          • ask clarifying questions?
          • investigate/consult alternative sources of information or opinions?
          • And then act
OR… Do you react negatively to the first statement you disagree with and ignore everything else said regardless of its worth, accept the first source of information as accurate fact, adopt every new idea without investigating background information (pros and cons), rush through tasks with the goal of completion rather than achievement. let your emotional state affect your ability to participate meaningfully or rush headlong into a task without any thought of what it will achieve and how you are going to achieve it?

As a teacher; Do you have a set of procedures to follow that allow you to manage challenging behaviour in the classroom rationally and consistently OR… do you react inconsistently to inappropriate behaviour thereby giving students mixed messages about expectations in the classroom?

Do you rehearse possible answers to possible scenarios/questions that may arise during challenging/controversial discussions/lesson sequences OR… do you just react insitinctively to students’ questions without knowing the consequences of your answers and so modelling to the children that its acceptable to say anything?

Do you have a culture of “wait time” in the room so children are comfortable with taking time to record ideas or collaborate with others  before they respond to questions OR… is it a competition to be the first to answer a question or  do you jump in to answer the question before any student gets a chance to?

Taking responsible risks

As a learner;
Do you –

          • Investigate new apps and programs without help, discovering functions by experimenting with menu options and icons?
          • Trial all possible strategies in Mathematics over a long period of time to find out which strategies work best in different situations?
          • Experiment with new skills and activities you have never attempted to see if you can master them at a level you are comfortable with?
OR….. do you just keep doing the same activities and stick with the same interests you have always done and stay within your comfort zone, go running for help from the “expert” so he/she can show you how a software program works, stick with one method or strategy even if it isn’t always efficient or successful?

As a teacher;

Do you –

  • expose yourself as a learner who needs to find out how to do something in front of the class?
  • make mistakes in front of the students and look for solutions on the spot rather than making sure everything is perfect in your lesson?
  • Provide opportunities for students to engage in problem solving that requires testing out multiple possibilities?
  • Encourage students to try out many strategies even when they are not competent or comfortable with them so they can become more accomplished at using them?
  • Experiment with newly advertised pedagogies over an extended period of time to give them time to show evidence of improved learning?
OR… Do you use a one size fits all strategy for all students, stick with the one pedagogy that you believe has worked in the past, only present tools you are an ‘expert’ user of so there is no risk of students seeing you struggle, only present problems you know the answers to or make sure you know everything about what you are about to present and don’t allow any divergence away from your plan for fear of being lead away from your comfort zone?

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m no perfect role model either. While I am persistent and like to experiment, I don’t necessarily go outside my comfort zone much ( although it is a wide ranging zone in most mainstream classroom – in my extension programs, my students see me struggle) and I still have my days when I don’t follow a consistent management plan.  the point of this reflection is to challenge the teaching community to analyse their own “habits of mind’ before expecting children to just develop them. Practise what you preach. The Habits aren’t just some content to learn about. They have to become part of your being. We have to make sure they’re part of OUR being.

Next Post: Part Two – Cognitive (past knowledge/metacognition/questioning and problem solving

21st Century Fluencies

21st Century Fluency Institute from Fluency21 on Vimeo.

The 21st Century Fluency Project is an organisation dedicated to improving education. Central to their vision is their focus on the development of what Lee Crockett, seen above in the video, calls the critical skills students need in the 21st Century to succeed. The organisation has developed these 6 major Fluencies in responses to questions asked by all interested in the education of our children.

Solution Fluency – the ability to solve problems in real time
Creativity Fluency – thinking creatively and divergently in both digital and non digital environments ( a key distinction made by Crockett in the video – we are not talking only technology here; these are life long learning skills for everyone, not just tech lovers) to develop solutions to see problems
Information Fluency – Crockett here talks about the higher end of Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy – evaluating, analyzing, synthesizing, comparing/contrasting – to make sense of the information overload they experience in a Google/Wikipedia driven, media rich world
Collaboration Fluency – ability to work collaboratively ” in physical and virtual spaces with real and virtual partners” ( again not throwing out traditional forms of communication but also embracing digital forms )
Media Fluency – communicating learning not just in writing and in speech as we have been accustomed but also in multiple multimedia formats, the communication forms of the present and future.
Digital citizen – Crockett mentions ethical thinking, action, accountability, personal responsibility, resilience, risk taking, global perspectives and understanding a diverse range of cultures in a global world our current students have no choice but to be part of

Their Website goes into a bit more detail on each of the fluencies and also contains links to a range of resources to support their philosophy as well as regular blog posts on specific topics regarding 21st Century Learning ( they even linked to one of my posts in April!)

These are big concepts and challenge a lot of teachers today. For school administrators and experienced teachers currently involved in leadership, these are ideas that were never really explored back in our training days or years in the classroom. Some of these ideas may be beyond our comprehension or comfort level. What I am excited about with what Crockett is “selling” in this video is that the 21st Century Fluency Project’s solution goes far beyond your standard Professional Development session in  a way that I think will make a big impact in schools still on the leaning curve towards true 21st Century Learning.The 21st Century Fluency Institutes Crockett describes here is based on workshops that are follwed up with months of collaborative support freom their team to embed their innovative practices into your school’s way of being. It is far more beneficial to a day of keynotes and hour long workshops that we come back from excited but then lose the impact of as time goes by and we are disconnected from the experts. Its a great PD model that I hope is adopted by others. Watch the video, visit their website and hopefully get engaged and involved. Our students deserve the chance.

For Australian readers, here is a link to information about the workshops being run in Australia in February/March next year

Who’s running Quality Control and Fact Checking in a Tech Rich, Differentiated, Personalised Classroom?

It was definitely much easier to teach in the ‘olden days’. Everyone read the same text, researched the same topic, wrote the same text type, answered the same question. The students worked hard, studied and took and passed ( apparently everyone did if you listen to the nostalgic educators and parents of times gone by) the same test.

Then along came this pesky new age world of personalising and differentiating teaching and learning with its notion of student choice and planning for a wide range of student interests and abilities. Along with it came a whole lot of challenges for teachers as they passed topic selection into the hands of the children.

No longer does the teacher have access to all knowledge being learned during the unit of work. No longer does the teacher have complete mastery over the content of the class novel. In a single Inquiry Unit, there may be 15 different topics being explored by your class. If your class runs Literature Circles or Book Clubs, there may be 5 or more novels being read concurrently. In these instances, how much is expected of the class teacher to be on top of all the content involved in the individual student’s choice?

At first glance, teachers may point to the fact that today’s curriculum is not about content knowledge any more. It’s about skill development, creativity, collaboration and communication. At a simplistic level, that may be partly true. We can’t escape the fact, though, that accuracy and understanding is still paramount. While an 8 year old will survive making the odd misinterpretation or copying the wrong information down, a 20 year old medical student can’t be confusing a pharynx with a larynx or thinking a 3:4 ratio means 3/4 and 1/4. So the question needs to be asked – How well are we dealing with Quality Control and Fact Checking in the Differentiated, Personalised Classroom? This one question brings up a whole lot more questions that every teacher needs t0 consider.

Are we expecting students to provide evidence for every fact they state in a report (and are we checking them)? In the days of one topic/one book, the teacher had the source of the information and could quickly determine the accuracy of the student’s statements. We knew everything we needed to know about the plot, characters and themes of the class novel. We taught them how to write a bibliography and footnotes whether they really needed to or not. A bibliography is not enough today.  We need to expect digital literacy skills like hyperlinking and bookmarking to be part of a digital report so that as teachers we can check not only that the information is accurate as we read it but also that it hasn’t just been rewritten or copied.

Are we putting more emphasis on the presentation and not enough on the content? In the name of engagement, teachers ( with me leading the charge!) are exposing students to a myriad of great web tools for presenting their work. Do we sometimes get seduced by the magic of a Prezi, Glog or Voki and reward the students for how their presentation looked rather than the quality/depth of the information presented?

Do our assessment rubrics give enough credit for the accuracy, depth and understanding of the information or are these factors downplayed at the expense of grammar, text structure, presentation and checklist of what requirements were met?

During the research phase, do we spend enough time checking that the information collected by students is relevant and accurate or do we spend all our time giving feedback on the quality of questions, time management and selection of ICT tools for presentation?

Do we check for understanding of the references they use to research their topic? We need to expect more than just copying notes. The students should be summarising the notes, writing questions about the information they have found, listing what addtional information is still required from other sources. This takes time to develop in students but it’s important for developing real critical thinking. Just rewriting notes in a different sentence doesnt show enough understanding.

Do we feedback about the quality of the references, the relevance of the information?

How much attention do we pay to the student’s ability to record notes that support the investigation?

Do we spend time checking that they are identifying enough details from a text? Too often students will highlight random sections of text to show they have found some key words but ignore major details within the same paragraph. Utilising a web tool like the social bookmarking site Diigo, we as teachers can collaboratively support students in highlighting key ideas. The tool supports sharing an online text AND annotations, highlighting and comments in real time. This is an improvement on waiting until the end of the week to hand up work to the teacher for checking. In the digital literacy environment, we can be more timely and strategic in our feedback while also checking the references being used.

Are we expecting our students to prove they have fact checked their own research by referring to several sources for each key idea or fact? We often criticise the use of Wikipedia because of its crowdsourced information but don’t question other references’ validity. We need to ensure that we have taught our students to check for the credentials of the source, ( .org/.edu/gov vs .com, blog vs scholarly), how up to date the information is, how to cross reference multiple sources. Again, digital literacy skills like hyperlinking to the source within their text for instant verification puts the onus on the student to prove their information is correct.

Do we encourage collaboration as a way to check for quality and accuracy? We need to consider the role of wikis, social networking sites like Edmodo and Twitter and blogs in crowdsourcing support in checking each other’s work. Maybe we need to rethink the idea that we only go public with finished products/published work. Why can’t we post drafts and brainstorms on our blogs and put it out there for others to critique, check, support, add to, fact check? Why not tweet out ideas to a worldwide audience to get feedback or answers. Following experts on Twitter could get you the support you need. One example I’ve seen is Dr Karl Kruszelnicki from Australia, a media savvy scientist who often answers tweets sent to him. I’ve read teacher blogs mentioning how they have organised other teachers via Twitter to mentor students in their grade.

There is no going back to the old way of teaching. Differentiation and Personalised Learning is here to stay. And so it should be. However, we do need to make sure we have measures in place to ensure we are monitoring the quality and accuracy of the information our students present in their projects. Many teachers can find this a challenge.

It’s probably more of a challenge in Primary schools where teachers tend to be generalists who teach every subject. It’s a lot to expect them to be on top of the information in Science, History, Health, Economics, Geography, Technology and Environmental Studies on top of every novel the students are reading. So we have to efficient in checking in on students at all stages of their research, not just at the presentation stage.

What challenges do you have in monitoring your students’ personalised learning? What processes do you have in place to manage? I am interested in your experiences. Join the conversation.